A little break in the action

The wedding was so lovely.
The weather was indeed perfect.
The couple was overjoyed.
Harp and harpist survived.
All is well.

This afternoon, I had a little time before I had to head out for the third event of the weekend (little neighbor Ethel wondered today if I understood the meaning of the word "no." Sorry, Ethel, not when it comes to the harp). So I went outside to walk in the garden looking for a few stolen moments of quiet and calm. Here's what I found:



Black-eyed Susans soaking up the sunlight.

Ah, Romas. It was worth the wait.

Mission accomplished. Deep breath. Refreshed and ready to go again.


SamTheCat has a Toto moment...

I'm sure those were bluebirds you heard outside, SamTheCat.
Now please get off my "Over the Rainbow" music.

Gearing up for a big weekend of weddings. Tonight was the first indoor ceremony I've played at since May. It was a gorgeous ceremony, with a reading by the bride's brother that made me cry and an appearance by Tracker the ring bearer dog. Smiles and tears and love all around at this wedding.

Tomorrow is another outdoor ceremony and I'm taking the concert harp, which never happens because she's a very expensive and delicate instrument and the outdoors are wild and dangerous and sometimes very unfriendly to such instruments. Yes, I'm speaking from experience. Yes, I'm nervous about it. So is the harp. In fact, The Big Girl is looking at me warily from her shady, air-conditioned and humidity-controlled corner right now.

I don't take the concert harp outside for just anybody. But the bride is my friend and she wanted "The Lord's Prayer" and "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World" and other music that called for the concert harp, so out The Big Girl is going with me. I keep assuring both of us that the weather will be perfect (now you know what you've always suspected: I talk to my harps, out loud). The weather has to be perfect because I've been making deals with the powers-that-be in charge of the weather and wind all week. We'll see who comes out ahead on the negotiations.

For tonight, I decided to just enjoy the unspeakably gorgeous, late summer evening with a long walk and some sitting in the garden watching the light change. I don't think there will be many more evenings like this.

So say the powers-that-be.


Welsh music is Celtic, too

On September 27th, the Celtic Band and I will be performing a concert of Welsh and other Celtic music for the Minnesota Gymanfa Ganu Association’s Welsh Weekend of Song.

“Gary-Gnu-what?” a friend asked when I told him what I’m working on. Gymanfa Ganu is Welsh for "hymn sing." It’s a mouthful to pronounce, but it goes something like this, with hard Gs (as in…Gary Gnu): gim-an-vi gahnny.

I performed for the MGGA in 2002 and 2003. I learned a lot about Welsh music while preparing for those concerts. Welsh music is so melodic. So structured. So absolutely pretty. And it's surprisingly different from Irish music in a way that I can't put my finger on. Interesting, since there's only just a bit of water between the countries.

Ever curious about language and words, I also wanted to learn about the Welsh language. A very kind and gentlemanly MGGA member gave me a crash course in Welsh Pronunciation for Dummies. I’ve managed to forget most of what he told me, except that it was very much ok to spit upon each other when speaking Welsh. I’d imagine it would be impossible not to, with all those dd=th and ll=llyth sounds flying out of one’s mouth.

Those concerts, I partnered with pianist and organist extraordinaire Christine Schulz. We tossed music back and forth in a wonderful mix of Classical-sounding theme and variation arrangements of Welsh hymns and songs.

This year’s concert will have a very different feeling and sound. I’ve chosen my favorite pieces from those previous concerts and have mixed it up with some more Welsh folk music I’ve arranged for the Band. I don't know if it'd go as far as to call it "Welsh music with an Irish spin." But I may call it “Welsh music in the style of Amy Kortuem and her Celtic Band.”

Usually the Band rehearses in the evenings, and it’s such a warm and lovely end to the day. These days, however, with SamTheDrummer having moved to Minneapolis to be with his lovely fiancĂ©e, we’re scheduling what we can here and there. Saturday morning was the only time that would work for all of us this week. I don’t do Saturday mornings very well. I usually guard them jealously as my time to rest and relax, to wind down from the week and to prepare for the weekend's playing. I’ll admit I was feeling a little bleary. But these wonderful friends are so very worth waking up early for.

SamTheDrummer was as calm and steady as ever.

Martha’s beautiful red hair (and her Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt)
brightened up the room.

And Marti’s smile was as warm as the Saturday sunshine.

Together, we made Welsh music sound even more melodic and pretty. I didn’t think that was possible. I love my Band.


Making a list, making it happen

Last week at Prima Vox rehearsal, we made a list.
Who we know.
Where we'd like to perform.
Who might like to have us perform.
What all this would entail.

Because as much as we love singing in my living room with candles and wine for ambiance and the cats for an audience, we love to share the music, too. When we've shared, it seems to have grown more and more beautiful.

So all week, we drew on our connections, made some calls, sent some emails, furiously texted each other. The result? Two performances set for The Voxes — one in October at First Presbyterian Church and one in February at the Center for the Arts in St. Peter. One sacred, one sacred and secular (profane). A nice mix, if you ask me.

This week there was more list making.
Lots of putting music in piles, spreading it out on the floor.
Rearranging. Realizing just how much we knew.
Noting what we needed to fine-tune.

And we put a lot more rehearsals on the calendar. It's going to be a sweet, chant-filled fall and winter. Stay tuned for further details...


Down’t the church

Every summer, Ethel’s “invites” me to play at her church. The exchange usually goes something like this…

Ethel: “So, there are two dates you can play down’t the church this summer. You pick.”

Me: “OK.”

Ethel is small, but she must be obeyed.

The church is half a block from my house.
I can see the entrance to the parking lot from my front step.

Still, I have to drive the half block because I just can’t haul everything in one walking trip. Every summer, Ethel laughs about this.

This year, however, she mixed things up a little bit. The exchange went something like this…

Ethel: “Why don’t you play down’t the church in August. And I think it would be nice if you sang, too, like you do in your concerts.”

Me: “OK.”

So today I got up early, warmed up my voice while I got ready (disturbing the cats, who usually don’t hear me speak for HOURS after I get up). I packed the harp, bench, music stand, music bag and coffee into the car. Drove for exactly 35 seconds. Got a prime parking spot. Many church members acted as roadies, carrying said bench, music stand, music bag and coffee and helping me set up at the front of the church.

It was a lovely service. The church was full to the brim. A baby was baptized. Children were happy and wiggly.

I played the special music and when I was done the wiggly little boy sitting in the pew in front of me turned around and gave me “5.” Pastor Bart said during his sermon, “Ethel, we are so glad you’re Amy’s neighbor.” One man complimented me on my “fine singing voice.” He said, “And I wear a hearing aid, so I would know if you’d have missed a note…and you didn’t.” Clapped me on the back.

Ethel hugged me and said, “Thank you.” I turned my face away so she wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes.

Reversed the loading process with the same kind roadies, drove the 35 seconds home.

Then Ethel took me out for breakfast.
She drove and I got a cardio workout without even leaving the car.

There are no coincidences, really. How do I know? The reading for the day was Psalm 133:
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live in unity.”



Other than this, it was a perfect day

“This” is a broken string.

It happens to harps. With all that tension on your frame, you’d snap something once in a while, too.

It's normally not a big deal when a string decides to go. However, this snap happened at a very inconvenient time.

Let me back up to the perfection of the day. Absolutely beautiful August weather. Nice drive to the wedding ceremony. Arrived at the church and there were a bevy of handsome groomsmen waiting to help me haul the concert harp into the church.

Nice, nice guys. Turns out, all of them were musicians of one sort or another, and they were absolutely fascinated with the harp. Watched every move I made unloading, setting up, putting down the pedals, tuning.

I wish you could have seen the view from my angle. I was standing on the right side of the harp, looking through the strings at my music stand and tuner. And in a perfect semi-circle around the left side of the harp were six pairs of very shiny black shoes.

One guy even got out his iPhone and watched the pitches along with me as I tuned (who knew iPhones had built-in tuners?)…“Dude, look! That’s a D-flat. That’s an E-flat. That’s an F-flat. That’s an…F-flat again,” he said and looked up at me, concerned. I told him not to worry – you’re supposed to tune a harp in flats.

Then a woman from the back of the church yelled, “So are you guys gonna leave her alone and start ushering in these guests or WHAT?” The shiny black shoes scattered and I started to warm up.

When I began to play Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, it sounded kinda bluesy. Jazzy maybe. I checked the tuning again. Yep, what should have been a G was definitely coming in at an F-flat.

I should have listened to the guy with the iPhone.

Upon examination, the string was fraying where it came out of the soundboard. Not a good sign. I spent a moment wondering if I should risk it lasting through the ceremony. I thought about waiting until afterward. It usually takes days and days for a gut string to stabilize. And it was 5 minutes before I needed to start the prelude.

I couldn’t do it. I changed the string.

I tuned and tuned and tuned. Played the prelude. Quick tuned and played the processional. Quick tuned and waited for the unity candle (cried when the groom said his vows because HE was crying…). Quick tuned and played the recessional. Quick tuned and played the postlude.

And the bride was none the wiser. Which is really what it’s all about: making things as perfect as possible for her, without her even knowing what goes into it.

There were compliments all around after the happy couple sped off with their wedding party in a huge black limo. Several guests wondered what the “flurry” was up at the front of the church at the last minute.

“Oh just the normal harpist stuff,” I said.

And they were none the wiser, too.


Saturday mornings. I love them. For a while...

Get up late.
Make a big pot of coffee.
Turn on Minnesota Public Radio.
Bake bread.
Fire up the laptop in the sunny kitchen.

Write. Import photos I’ve taken all week. Send some photos to my very patient photographer friend Rick. Wait impatiently for his nice emails back. Read the news. Read blogs. Surf the net for more information on my latest wonderings, wanderings and ideas.

Then it happens. Harry smells the baking bread, sees that I’m sitting still and have a free lap and — whomp! All 12.8 pounds of big, hairy cat are on me full force. It’s amazing how quiet and sneaky such a big cat can be.

Harry likes to type.
He likes to run his paws over the built-in mouse and highlight stuff.
Then he likes to delete that stuff.
He likes to put all his weight on my right arm and hang there.
He likes to bat the wireless mouse off the counter onto the floor.
He likes to stand with all 12.8 pounds balanced on about 3 square inches of one of my legs and turn around in circles. And stick his tail in my face.
He likes to be petted and told he’s a good boy. Over and over and over and over.

zx.,dvknz .,,,,
(As you can see, Harry also has a lot to say.)

After about 20 minutes of this, Harry has gotten what he needs and is on the porch sleeping.

I, on the other hand, am hot (he’s a warm one, Harry), I’m covered in hair, my coffee is cold and I’ve forgotten what I want to write about.

Make some toast, warm up the coffee, start the day.

G’night, Harry.



On my confirmation day, lo these many years ago, I fully expected something to happen. I’d gone to classes faithfully, I’d read, I’d thought, I’d prayed. I figured I deserved something. A dove descending. Some kind of bright light. A voice from Heaven. An inner holy knowing. Some kind of change, at least.


What happened is that the bishop anointed my forehead, told me to be good and do my homework, winked at me, and then turned to the next kid in line.

That’s it. No light, no feathers, no voices. I even stood there too long waiting for it and got hustled along by our priest. At that point, even a burning bush would have been welcome. Chalk it up to reading too many books about the lives of the saints. I don’t know. Plus, bishops weren’t supposed to wink, were they?

So you’d think I would have learned not to expect too much from those “special” days. But I still managed to get really worked up and then get really disappointed / disillusioned when nothing happened. Like…

1-1-00. Nothing exploded, the world didn’t end (which, after all, is a good thing, but still…).
6-6-06. Where was the giant battle between good and evil (again, a good thing, but still…)?
7-7-07. Certainly wasn’t the luckiest day of my life. ‘Nuff said.

And now 8-8-08. I read that when you turn an 8 on its side, it’s an infinity symbol. I read that it would be a day filled with infinite possibilities for abundance, growth, blessings. I read about meditations I was supposed to do to bring these infinite possibilities into being.

So I started the day with the thought that, “OK! It’s 8-8-08! I’m going to make the most of it! Because if you turn 8 on its side, it becomes an infinity symbol! And there are infinite possibilities out there in the universe, just waiting for me!”

Despite my readiness for something special it turned out to be disappointingly normal day. I got a late start. I drank too much coffee. I ate potato chips and regretted it. I took a long nap. I spent way too much time emailing my friends. I read some bad historical fiction (and I mean bad). It was hot outside. I got sweaty just watering my flowers and my tomato plants. I got extra sweaty during my walk.

As I walked, I was thinking the day was lost. I just wanted to get home and take a bath and eat a salad (to balance out those potato chips) and watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and consider it a not-significant day at all.

And then I heard a little girl singing. She was standing on her deck, head thrown back, toy microphone held to her lips, belting out The National Anthem with all her might. And I mean belting. With such joy. Wow, the lungs on that kid. It was off-key (or maybe a mixture of several keys all at once) and very, very, very bad. I put my hand over my heart as I walked past her and her Dad, who was standing there shaking his head. I waited until I’d walked well past her house and then I stood there on the sidewalk and laughed and laughed and laughed. It made my day, hearing her sing.

Thing is, if I hadn’t been so hyper about it, I probably would have been absolutely content with the day in the first place. It was low-key, relaxed, no pressures. Filled with stuff I love (books, friends, naps, food, coffee, walks, time in my garden, laughing until I cry). A rare occurrence during this busy wedding season.

Later, I got my bath and my salad and a little bit of the opening ceremonies. And, for good measure, I lit some candles and did a meditation and sat in quiet possibility for a while.

Feeling infinitely blessed by such a normal life.